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Since 2016, The Reader has been promoting the benefits of reading for pleasure for care experienced children and young people in Merseyside through our unique Reading Heroes programme. Children are paired with highly trained volunteers and read online 1:1 for a period of 6-9 months. The work is overseen by an experienced project team who train and support volunteers to deliver lively and engaging Shared Reading sessions; and who provide ongoing safeguarding provision and assistance so that carers, partners, volunteers and the young people are supported throughout.

Findings from our 2021 cohort of young readers showed:

  • 85%

    read with improvements in confidence and self-esteem

  • 92%

    said that Reading Heroes stimulated imaginations and improved confidence with literacy.

  • 100%

    showed significant improvements in wellbeing

The Project

Each child reads 1:1 with a trained volunteer weekly, for up to 26 sessions, spanning a period of 6-9 months to build in flexibility where changes in circumstances or schedules occur. Stories and poems are read aloud together and thoughts, feelings and ideas that are sparked are explored in a safe space. Reading sessions take place online (or in person if Tiny Heroes) and all books are provided. Using a child-led approach we offer choice from a range of literature curated around individual interests to spark a lifelong passion for reading. 

Reading Heroes in person

Why Reading Heroes is needed

Academic research shows the importance of reading for pleasure for a child’s cognitive ability, emotional wellbeing and reading attainment level. Research shows that reading for pleasure is more important for children’s cognitive development than their parents’ level of education and is a more powerful factor in life achievement than socio-economic background (OECD, 2002). 

Yet, most children in England do not read on a daily basis: in 2019, only 29% of 1-13 year olds surveyed reported reading for pleasure daily, down from 30% in 2017. When this age span is extended to include 14-17 year olds, the average comes down to 27%. (Egmont, 2019).  

We know that young people in care are more at risk of social, emotional and mental health problems, and are less likely to do well at school. In 2019, at KS2 only 49% of looked after children reached the expected standard for reading compared to 73% of non-looked after children (Department for Education, 2020). Children in care are also four times more likely to have a mental health problem than children living with their birth families (NSPCC, 2015). In 2020, there were 80,850 children looked after by local authorities in England and this number is continuing to rise each year.  

The Impact

Reading Heroes aims to spark a love of reading for pleasure and increase wellbeing in those children and young people that we read with. We use a combination of longitudinal evaluation measures, feedback and parent/carer observations to assess the impact of Reading Heroes.  

Our evaluation also enables us to understand our impact in more detail. For example, findings from our cohort of readers in 2022 revealed that: 

  • 80% of young people reported they enjoy reading more since taking part  
  • 89% of young people are reading things they wouldn’t have tried before 
  • 91% of young people found it relaxing 
  • 89% of young people said it was good to talk about their feelings 
  • 87% of carers said it has helped their child to be more interested in reading. 

Books by Post

After their 1:1 reading sessions end, each child is invited to take part in an ongoing programme of activity. This consists of a book posted to their home every 2 months for the next year so they can develop their own personal libraries. Alongside these books, we deliver an online Shared Reading group and a series of in person/online workshops/events from the Storybarn and The Mansion House, our home in Calderstones Park – championing each child’s interests and talents, whilst bringing great stories to life. 

Reading Heroes over Zoom
Tiny Heroes volunteer reads with a toddler

Tiny Heroes

Tiny Heroes is a part of the Reading Heroes project aimed directly at care experienced children in the Early Years (ages 2-4) in the Liverpool area.

Once a week a volunteer Reading Buddy visits a Tiny Hero at home for a one-to-one session of songs, rhymes and storytelling. They bring along a rhyme bag – full of toys, props and books. From the bag begins a journey into songs, rhymes and stories!